The British Library, London

The Barcelona Haggadah

MS. ADD. 14761

One of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in the collections of the British Library.

A fine limited edition of 550 copies.

ISBN 0 948223 081
Price: £3,950.00

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The manuscript description as it appeared in the sale catalogue. more »

The Barcelona Haggadah is recognised as one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in the collections of London’s British Library. It dates from the middle of the fourteenth century, and is named after the heraldic shield it bears, which resembles the arms of Barcelona.

When the manuscript was created, the Jews of Aragon and Catalonia formed one of the largest communities in Europe, and Barcelona was home to a flourishing centre of manuscript illumination, linked to the court and influenced by Italian and French styles.

Of all categories of Jewish prayer book, the Passover Haggadah tends to be the most extensively and richly decorated. The narrative, the rabbinic elaboration, the family meal, the symbolic foods and the fact that the story is told to children all provide added incentives for colourful illustration. The size of the manuscript indicates that it was intended to be used and enjoyed at the Passover table on the eve of the festival, for the family gathering known as the Seder.

Folio 20v - The ritual scene of breaking and hiding the Afikomen, one of the three ceremonial matzoth. more » Folios 60v-61r - A lavish rendering of the Matza. more »

The Barcelona Haggadah is outstanding for the rich decorative and representational illuminations scattered throughout the text: no fewer than 128 of its 322 pages are beautifully ornamented. Its fanciful figures and pictorial scenes provide fascinating insights into Jewish life in mediaeval Spain. For instance, music and the arts flourished in Barcelona and its environs, and the Jewish community was proud to be fully involved. Indeed, until the forced conversion of the Jewish population of Barcelona in 1401, Jewish musicians played a vital role in drawing the Jews and Christians closer together.

It is therefore not surprising that a lively interest in music is evident throughout the manuscript: in all, twenty-eight different instruments appear in the illustrations. More intimate details, such as depictions of the meal, take us straight into a Jewish home of the period, while the synagogue scene reflects fourteenth-century conditions and traditions.

Folios 24v-25r - “And if it falls on a Saturday evening...” more »

The large, clear script, probably designed to be read more easily by children, was written on eight lines per page. The text of the Haggadah occupies 180 pages; the remaining leaves contain liturgical poems and prayers for the other days of the Passover festival.

Folios 31v-32r - The illustrations of the five rabbis of Bnei Brak. more » Folio 30v -“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” enlarge »

A manuscript as splendid as this must always have been treasured by its owners, some of whom we are fortunate in being able to trace through inscriptions on its pages. We find that it was sold by Shalom Latif of Jerusalem to Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Bologna in 1459 for fifty gold ducats, and that it therefore left Spain before the expulsion of the Jews. The manuscript also bears the signature of an ecclesiastical censor: ‘Visto per me Fra. Luigi del Ordine de San Dominico 1599’ (Seen by me, Brother Luigi of the Order Saint Dominic 1599.)

Similarly, we have evidence that it was owned by Jehiel Nahman Foà in the seventeenth century and later by Mordecai and Raphael Hayyim, two members of the Ottolenghi family. The British Museum bought it in 1844.

Folio 42v. enlarge »

The Barcelona Haggadah contains the Haggadah, Laws for Passover, piyyutim and Torah readings for the festival of Passover according to the Spanish rite (Folios 9-151) and poems, Aramaic Targumim and Aramaic piyyutim according to the Provençal custom.

Folios 28v-29r. enlarge »


The Barcelona Haggadah has been acclaimed as one of the finest facsimiles in publishing history. The publishers, not content merely to reproduce the appearance of the original, recreated the aura of the manuscript by including every detail, no matter how minute. The facsimile is designed to be used and enjoyed for many generations to come, thereby preserving and making accessible a rich cultural heritage.


From its inception, the Barcelona Haggadah facsimile was planned as a lavish and accurate copy. The vellum of the original manuscript was measured for its average weight and opacity, and a special uncoated, neutral pH paper was milled to simulate the feel of the original. Several years of research and development culminated in the production of a paper that exactly reproduces the opacity, texture and thickness of the vellum on which the manuscript was written. The paper, made by a small Alpine paper mill, is similar to that used in the Kennicott Bible and Rothschild Miscellany facsimiles and has been widely recognised as the closest likeness to vellum ever achieved.


Crucial to the production of a fine facsimile is the quality of the original photography. This was undertaken by Laurence Pordes, Senior Photographer at the British Library, who expertly lit and photographed the manuscript using a large-format plate camera and a specially made batch of Kodak Ektachrome film.

Colour correcting. more »

Colour Separation, Proofing & Printing

The facsimile is printed in up to twelve different coloured inks, demanding great care and attention by the master printers, colour separators and our own quality-control team. The colour separators combined laser scanning equipment with painstakingly precise hand work in order to make the colour separations necessary for the first proofs.

These proofs were then compared with the original manuscript in London by the separators, the publisher and the printer. Corrections were made and new proofs were produced and compared yet again to the original. This process was repeated up to four times for each page to ensure an exact likeness prior to printing.

The facsimile is printed by offset lithography in up to twelve inks. Each printed page is exactly the same size as the original. Every single sheet is printed under the close and critical supervision of the publishers, who moved to Italy for the duration of the printing and personally approved each page.

The pricking along the page edges. enlarge »


The scribe made minute holes down the sides of each folio between which he would rule lines for his script. These tiny holes, referred to as pricking, were often trimmed off before the manuscript was bound, but are reproduced in the facsimile where they still exist.

The hand-laid gold metallic leaf. enlarge »


As gold leaf cannot be adequately simulated by printing, it was decided to reproduce the raised burnished gold in the original by laying metal leaf by hand to achieve the richness of the fourteenth-century gilding. Craftsmen applied metal foil leaf to each of the 105 pages where gold is found, using a unique process developed especially for these facsimiles, resulting in raised gold as in the original.

Special metallic powder is applied to all the illustrations that contain powdered gold or silver in the original. Much of the silver in the manuscript has tarnished, so yet another new technique was developed to simulate oxidised silver.

Close-up of the pages of the facsimile. enlarge »


The irregular page edges of the Haggadah have become brown with age. Thus each leaf of the facsimile is cut to exactly the same size and shape as the original, and aged at the edges.

The Barcelona Haggadah calfskin bindings. enlarge »


The blind-tooled binding is in fine brown calfskin over boards with rounded corners. The book block is sewn by Italian craftsmen over handmade head and tail bands. The quire formation of the manuscript has also been scrupulously observed. The accompanying commentary volume is produced to an equally high standard, printed on Magnani mould-made paper and bound in a full calfskin binding. While every effort is made to match the commentary volume binding to that of the facsimile as closely as possible, we do use natural skins and there may be slight differences. The title of the commentary volume is blocked in gold on the spine.

The presentation slipcase. enlarge »


The facsimile and commentary volume are presented in an elegant hand-marbled slipcase. Every copy is accompanied by a certificate bearing the seal of The British Library, verifying the number of the facsimile and the size of the edition. The number of each facsimile is discreetly yet indelibly blind-stamped on the inside of the back cover using steel dies.

Personalised Dedication

Each facsimile can be personally dedicated by our calligrapher at no extra charge. Whether the facsimile is intended as a gift to an institution or a private individual, our calligrapher can inscribe a beautifully-illuminated gift certificate with an appropriate inscription in any language. We can either supply it as a loose leaf or paste it inside the front cover of the manuscript facsimile for you. There is no extra charge for the certificate.

Blind-stamping the facsimile number. enlarge »


All 550 copies have been bound and the printing plates destroyed, in accordance with Halachic requirements, to preserve the significant investment value of each facsimile.

Shipping, Packaging & Insurance

The price includes robust protective packaging, worldwide courier delivery and insurance to your door. We use UPS for most of our deliveries and in many cases can provide an international overnight service at no additional charge. Once your order has been placed we will send you an electronic invoice and UPS will contact you by email to enable you to track the progress of your order.


The commentary volume has been designed to be used in conjunction with manuscript facsimile. The entire text of the manuscript has been translated.

Pages 100-101 of the commentary volume. enlarge »

The commentary volume is edited by Dr Jeremy Schonfield (Mason Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Lecturer at the Leo Baeck College, Centre for Jewish Education, London).

Contents of the commentary volume:

  1. Introduction - Dr Jeremy Schonfield
  2. The Making of the Book - A Codicological Study. Malachi Beit-Arié (Ludwig Jesselson Professor of Codicology and Palaeography, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Head, Hebrew Palaeography Project, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities) discusses the codicology and palaeography of the manuscript
  3. The Decoration - Dr Evelyn M. Cohen (Art Historian, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York; Sylvan C. Coleman and Pamela Coleman Art History Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006-7), discusses the art history and decoration.
  4. The Binding of the Haggadah and of the Facsimile - discussed by the late Dr Leila Avrin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  5. The Owners - Dr Diana Roland-Smith (British Library, London) describes the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the manuscript.
  6. The Poems - A Literary Study. Dr Menachem Schmelzer (Professor of Mediaeval Hebrew Literature, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York) explains the liturgical content of the manuscript and discusses the poems following the Haggadah section.
    Excerpt from Menahem Schmelzer’s text:

    In the main part there are 46 poems; while in the supplementary part their number is nine, with one poem appearing within the Haggadah proper. Most of the piyyutim belong to the genre called yoseroth, or poems preliminary to the yoser blessing, recited each morning, in which God is praised as the creator of the World. This poetic genre developed in the Holy Land towards the end of the Byzantine period and served as a vehicle for liturgical change and creativity, providing poetic embellishment to the morning service, and relieving the monotony of the standard prayers. Originally, the poetic yoser would have served as a substitute for the standard text, and would have retained only a few statutorily required liturgical formulae, while offering a wealth of poetic variations on the basic themes of the service.

  7. Translation of the Texts - The Poems and Targumim, Raphael Loewe, Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew Emeritus, University College London and 2000 winner of the Seatonian Prize, Cambridge
    Excerpts from Raphael Loewe’s text:

    from “The Service in the Synagogue for Passover-Eve
    A watch-night this: God, who rules light and dark,
    Predestined it at midnight’s stroke - a mark
    Of love, that He remembers for the seed
    Of Abraham, whose night-march captives freed
    Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who lovest thy people Israel

    from “The Laws regarding Passover
    ...‘On 14 Nisan, being the day preceding Passover, carry out such work only as your sages declare permissible. Tailors, laundrymen and barbers are allowed to work as usual until midday, as a public service. If your forefathers were accustomed to refrain from work in the forenoon, adhere to their local practice:
    ‘My son, the code thy sire prescribed, obey,
    Thy mother’s teaching do not thrust away’.
    ...‘If however, a voluntary errand takes you to a different house, you must return forthwith and destroy [the leaven] in due form. If you are on the way to save people from marauding bands, from a river in flood, a collapsed building or a fire, abjure the leaven mentally - it is entirely unnecessary for you to return.
    Although thereto no flame you have applied,
    Yet ‘in God’s eyes will you be justified.’

  8. The Haggadah and ‘Amidoth, the detailed notes of the late David Goldstein, Curator of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books at The British Library and Dr Jeremy Schonfield - The Barcelona Haggadah was David Goldstein’s favourite among all the Hebrew manuscripts in the great collection for which he was responsible, and he encouraged the publishers to produce the present facsimile.
  9. Musicologist, Yaacov Snir, has kindly permitted the inclusion of part of his thesis on the musical instruments depicted in the illuminations
  10. Extensive Bibliography
  • 322 pages, 161 folios
  • Page size approximately 255 x 190mm (10in x 7.5in)
  • Page sizes vary slightly, in exact accordance with the pages of the manuscript
  • 138 illuminated pages, with raised and flat gold metallic leaf applied by hand, powdered gold and silver, and rich, vibrant colours
Colour Separation & Proofing
  • Laser scanning combined with precise hand work, to create the colour separations necessary for printing
  • Up to four sets of proofs made for each page to ensure an exact likeness prior to printing
  • Offset lithography
  • Printed in up to twelve inks
  • Each page personally approved by the publishers at the press in Italy
  • Raised, flat, and powdered gold and silver are accurately reproduced
  • Hand-laid metal leaf applied to all 105 pages where gold and silver are found in the original
  • Special processes developed exclusively for this facsimile
  • pricking, where it occurs, is faithfully reproduced in the facsimile
  • The facsimile and commentary are presented in a calfskin-lipped hand-marbled slipcase
Gift Certificate
  • Hand-inscribed, illuminated certificate can be pasted into the facsimile at no extra charge
Shipping, Packaging & Insurance
  • Price includes robust protective packaging, worldwide courier delivery and insurance
  • We use UPS for most of our deliveries
  • International overnight service usually available at no extra charge
  • Electronic invoice and tracking details delivered to you immediately via email
  • Strictly limited to 550 numbered copies
  • 500 copies (numbered 1-500)
  • 50 ad personam copies (numbered I-L)
  • Each volume discreetly numbered by hand inside the leather binding using steel dies
  • Each volume accompanied by a numbered certificate bearing the verification stamp of The British Library
  • Printing plates were destroyed (in accordance with Halachic requirements)
Purchase The Barcelona Haggadah is priced at £3,950.00. purchase »